Lyndria had always thought about exploring the world. Even when she went hunting, she never strayed far from the clan. The idea was to travel with Madrin who was content staying with the clan.
Now that she was out in the world, she was glad Madrin wasn’t with her.
Death and destruction had consumed everything. Most of the areas had been burned to ash by dragonfire, the ashes coating piles of human and dragon corpses. Seeing the dead had become preferable to the living as most humans she encountered tried to kill her or ran away in fear. The dragons weren’t much better. What few weren’t put off by her outcast markings were often consumed with vengeance on humans. She didn’t care what the humans did and had no intention of “putting them back in their place”.
She learned what was happening to the world at least. The humans discovered a means to kill dragons and were drunk on power, claiming it was time to usurp the false gods. It struck her as odd that her kind had others worshipping them.
Not that it mattered. It wasn’t her fight, and she wanted no part of it. She learned to travel at night as it was easier to avoid running into anyone. During the day, she slept on old battlefields among the corpses so she would be mistaken for dead.
Most days she was hungry. The fighting had scared off most of the wildlife, so she was forced to feast on the dead. It wasn’t pleasant, eating another creature’s kill. Such an act was for cowards or hatchlings who couldn’t hunt for themselves.
She supposed it was fitting after she murdered the clan Matriarch and left the clan leaderless. Any Matriarchs in waiting would be vying for the position which meant a lot of infighting. The clan would likely fall apart from it.
Served them right for being so shallow and abandoning their Matriarch for that tyrant.
Thoughts of the clan destroying itself from within occupied Lyndria’s thoughts since there was no one else to talk to.
She woke up at dusk and followed the sunset, hoping she would reach the end of the world. Any place that once held life was now a ruin or abandoned. A dragon clan would never take her in.
At first, she enjoyed the isolation, the freedom of being on her own with no responsibilities. After several days, it began to weigh on her. A few times she caught herself talking to her shadow, screaming at it in rage.
The humans she encountered shot first and asked later, and the dragons made poor company.
She found another human clan. Unlike the others, most of the human structures were still standing, but the bodies on the ground told this place had met the same fate as the others.
It suited her just fine as she would get privacy. The sun would be coming up soon. This place was as good as any for a rest. There were no dragon corpses around so she had to settle for sleeping inside one of the human structures. She found one that didn’t reek of blood and relatively little debris on the floor and curled up in the corner to sleep.
“Sleep tight, whelp,” Delour said.
Lyndria snapped her eyes open. Her heart hammered in her ears. That was a phrase often said after one of her attempts to break her.
The former Matriarch laid on the floor a few feet away, grinning stupidly. Her throat lay open and exposed, her front shining with blood.
Lyndria could only stare in horror. She had heard of this during her training with Nayome. Sometimes when two Matriarchs clashed, one left an impression on the other and she would see illusions of her fallen opponent. But in all her memories taken from the Oracle, she couldn’t recall a single time this had happened. Nayome mentioned it had something to do with an emotional connection.
She growled and jumped to her feet. The thought she could be forever bonded with that traitorous bitch made her want to tear everything down in rage.
Delour’s grin grew wider. “What’s the matter? Scared?”
She charged the illusion, passing through it and slamming into the wall. The place shook, dust raining from the ceiling.
She snarled and whirled around, preparing for another charge, but nothing was there. Silence fell over the room. Still, she refused to let her guard down. It wasn’t until several minutes passed and there was no sign of Delour returning that she got back in the corner and laid down.
She lay there, staring into the shadows until she fell asleep.
The sound of voices woke her up. At first, she believed it was Delour’s echo coming to taunt her some more, but she was alone in the sunlit room. The voices were coming from outside. Carefully she crept to one of the holes and peeked outside.
A pair of dragons stood nearby. Both females based on their scents. One dragon was a Horntail, named for the signature spikes on their tails. She had encountered Horntails before and knew they took great pride in their deadly appendages. This one was different; the tail spikes were broken and dull. And she stood huddled in on herself like a cowering hatchling. There was no pride in her milky eyes. Her tongue flicked rapidly as her head snapped in every direction.
The other dragon was a Stormborne. Lyndria’s first impression was that dragon was trouble. She carried herself like an approaching storm; powerful, unflinching, and dangerous.
It seemed strange to find a pair of females wandering alone like this. Every other dragon she encountered was in a group. This might have been a scouting team or hunters, so she stayed low and quiet. She just hoped she hadn’t somehow wandered into a clan’s territory.
Something clattered behind her. She spun around, expecting an attack but instead saw a piece of wood had fallen. The instant she relaxed, she heard the sound of steps approaching. She reacted too slow and spun just in time to see a dragon tackle into her.
She slammed into the wall and fell to the floor, stunned. The attacking dragon leaped on her, pinning her head to the floor. She growled and thrashed, but the other dragon was larger and heavier. Crackling filled the air and a numbing feeling washed over her, limbs going limp.
She cursed her luck. It had to be another Stormborne like the one outside. They were the only dragons capable of discharging electricity from their bodies to paralyze opponents.
“Did you find something?” one of the dragons outside asked. Judging from the haughtiness of her tone, Lyndria suspected it was the Stormborne.
“I did,” the drake holing her down replied. “A dragon, my Matriarch.”
Shit, another Matriarch, Lyndria thought.
She heard steps and eventually, the other Stormborne entered her vision. The Horntail followed close behind, looking at everything fearfully and her tongue flicking rapidly.
The female Stormborne stared at her for a moment. Lyndria couldn’t move more than her eyes but she stared back. If it hadn’t been confirmed before, there was no doubting the dragoness’s status. An immense pressure not caused by the drake on top of her pressed on her from all sides. Her mother gave off a pressure like that when she was angry. This wasn’t just a Matriarch, but a powerful one.
“Silias, let her up,” the Matriarch commanded.
Lyndria felt the weight leave her body, but she was still paralyzed from the earlier attack so she couldn’t move.
The other Matriarch laid on the floor. “What’s your name?”
She would have frowned if her body allowed it.
The Stormborne smiled. “Ah, forgive me. Silias’ attack has rendered you unable to speak. Very well, I shall speak until you can resume your higher functions. My name is Sareen. The drake who attacked you is my sentinel, Silias.” She motioned to the cowering Horntail behind her. “That is Olyvia.”
Nice to meet you. Now fuck off. She thought. She began getting feeling back in her toes, but she remained still in case she needed a surprise attack.
She nodded to Silias who left the room. “You’ll have to forgive Olyvia. I rescued her from humans and their cruelty. They attempted to break her mind and the experience has left her quite timid. And I must apologize for my sentinel’s…rude greeting. The dragons we have encountered have been less than hospitable so we no longer count them as allies.”
Sareen stood and looked down her snout at Lyndria. “So, you should be capable of speech by now. Tell me, what is your name?”
“Lyndria. And if you’re wondering how many dragons are with me, the answer’s none.”
“She travels alone?” Olyvia asked. “But that’s dangerous! The humans will catch her and—”
“I’m right here,” Lyndria said with a low growl. “If you have something to say to me, how about you say it to my face?”
Olyvia gave a frightened squeal and ducked behind Sareen. The Stormborne soothed the cowering dragon then turned to Lyndria. “As I informed you: she has been badly scarred by the experience.”
“Whatever. Anyway, no human is taking me alive.”
“You would be wise not to underestimate them. Just a few years ago, the idea of a human challenging us in combat seemed laughable and now they’ve taken us to war.” She chuckled. “War may be the wrong term. But there are no other descriptors which can accurately capture the level depravity consuming us now.”
“Yeah, I heard the humans want to ‘unseat the false gods’ or some nonsense.”
Sareen’s tail slapped the floor, the sound of thunder making Lyndria and Olyvia flinch. “We are not false! Those ungrateful cretins will soon learn the error of their ways and they shall beg for our forgiveness!”
“Okay, okay, calm down before you pop.”
Sareen closed her eyes and sat down. The low rumble filling the room ceased. “The humans took much from me in their claims for ‘independence’. It has…affected me more than I care to admit.”
Olyvia flicked her tongue and slowly approached.
“Okay, I gotta ask,” Lyndria said. “Why does she keep doing that? Is it a nervous tick?”
Sareen turned to her companion then smiled when she saw Olyvia’s tongue flick again. “Ah. That is not a habit. She’s blind and she’s learned to use her sense of smell to compensate. It’s quite accurate.”
“Oh. The humans do that?”
“No. I believe it was caused shortly after she hatched.”
Lyndria thought it was a fascinating skill. Once Olyvia could answer questions without panicking, she would ask how the dragon learned it. Drawing it from her memories would be faster, but she loathed the idea because of the risk of drawing Olyvia’s tortured experience with humans.
Silias returned, though he didn’t tackle Lyndria this time. He stood in front of Sareen and bowed. “There is a human patrol west of here,” he said.
“How many?” Sareen asked.
“Five, your grace. But they were traveling light. Too light to be travelers. They must be camped nearby.”
“Then it is as I feared.” She turned to Lyndria. “I’m impressed you survived this long on your own. I would ask that you join us.”
Lyndria turned and raised her wing, showing her outcast marking. “I don’t think you’d want me around.”
To her surprise, Sareen laughed. “We are not a clan. And in today’s unstable climate, we have little cause to allow old traditions to divide us. So I ask again: are you with us?”
“To put the humans in their place?”
“Hardly. This conflict is like a fire. It survives only so long as there is fuel to feed it. Cut it off and it will eventually die out. No, my goal is to preserve what remains. The simpletons who crave power have begun defiling the places they once called sacred and destroying centuries of history and culture.”
“And your plan is what?”
“Drive them out and reclaim our history. There is a temple nearby which humans have taken residence in.”
Lyndria wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t know next to anything about human life or this culture they were supposed to be preserving and she didn’t care. But she also had no goals, no direction. Just aimless wandering. How long until she came across a large force of humans and gunned down? Sooner or later she had to choose a side.
Sareen seemed just as good a choice as any. At least the dragoness wasn’t preaching death to all humans and didn’t care about her outcast status.
“Sure, why not?” Lyndria said.
“Excellent. Now we must rest. Come tonight, we will visit the human’s camp.”
Lyndria couldn’t shake the nerves she felt. The last time she attacked a human settlement, she was shot. Knowing what she knew now, it was dumb luck that saved her then. Now she knew better but didn’t want to put everything on that luck coming through.
Sareen wasn’t worried. The lack of bullet wounds despite her bragging about the number of humans she had slain so far was proof of her ability. Olyvia and Silias had several scars from their encounters with humans. Lyndria wondered what her secret was. This level of confidence went beyond arrogance. She knew something that gave her the edge and she played it beautifully.
It was a cloudless night with a full moon so the human camp was easy to spot. It also helped the large bonfire lit outside the large structure Sareen pointed out was the temple they were looking for.
“That place is probably crawling with them,” Lyndria said. “How are the three of us supposed to clear this place out?” Olyvia could barely hold a conversation yet alone participate in battle. Even before the battle, she begged the others not to leave her alone.
Sareen chuckled. “Three? No, only one is enough.”
She tilted her head. “You know something I don’t?”
There came several shouts followed by gunshots from the human camp. Lyndria threw caution to the wind and reared up on her hind legs to get a better view. She saw the humans running about, shooting one another.
She turned back to Sareen. The dragoness looked at her with a sly smile. Lyndria knew she had done something even if the method was lost on her. The Call was her first thought, but that wasn’t possible.
A distant memory popped into her mind. She didn’t even remember when Nayome shared it with her. She recalled a former Matriarch of her clan was feared for the strength of her Call and unique hunting style. She would sit in one place and use her Call to summon creatures to her, making them easy prey. The memory didn’t show any humans among them but now it wasn’t as far-fetched to believe.
Once the shooting stopped, Sareen strode towards the camp. “That should do it. Let’s see if there’s anything of importance remaining.”
Lyndria jogged up alongside her. “You learned how to use your Call on humans?”
“You catch on quickly. Yes, that is exactly what transpired here. You never tried to use your Call on other creatures?”
“Never had a reason to.”
“You require one? It never occurred to you to test your limits? To expand your abilities?”
She never did. Destroying Delour was her only thought and Matriarchs were immune to each other’s Call so it was never an option. She couldn’t deny it fascinated her seeing the other uses the Call had.
Her thoughts were distracted by witnessing what Sareen could do with her power. There was blood everywhere. The humans lay scattered on the floor. Some of them still wore shock on their faces. It bothered her. She held no love for the humans, but she didn’t hate them either.
Sareen strode through the carnage without care, stepping on anyone in her path. Lyndria suppressed a growl. Humans or not, this level of disrespect towards her enemies was disgusting.
The two large stone doors into the temple had been opened wide enough for them to squeeze through. Inside was more thrown together human structures that didn’t match the architecture. Blood coated almost everything.
“These humans have been here for a while,” Silias said. “It may be possible that they destroyed everything.”
“Let’s not leap to conclusions until we know for certain,” Sareen replied.
“Yes, your grace.”
Even with the carnage, Lyndria was awed by the large structure. She had never encountered anything like it before. Large stone carvings of dragons lined the hall. Markings of humans and dragons covered the walls, the shadows from the firelight dancing on them and making them seem alive.
“Dragons lived here?” she asked.
“Yes, they did,” Silias replied. There was a note of bitterness in his voice. “This is where the humans came and asked for our favor.”
“And now it has been consumed by delinquents and squatters,” Sareen said, nudging a nearby corpse in disgust.
“She’s really pissed at humans.”
Silias turned away, his expression giving away his discomfort.
Sareen broke the silence with a heavy sigh. “You may tell her.”
“As you wish, your grace. Her mother was a dracaena. She ruled over the humans justly and fairly. She was loved and-and respected.” He paused for a moment to take a breath then continued in a heavy voice. “Then the humans turned on us. Thousands of them swarmed the temple. Her grace sent her hatchlings away and stayed behind to buy time. It was…hard to abandon her.”
“Sounds a lot like what happened with my mother,” Lyndria said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault,” Sareen replied. “I learned that day just how ungrateful and narrow-minded my future subjects were. They were little better than children playing at adulthood.” A low rumble like thunder reverberated through the cavern. “Did you know the humans like to display their kills? They defile and decorate the body and place it on display for all to see.” Her voice rose with every word, joining the increasing thunderous rumble as her body glowed brightly. “My mother, whom they revered and claimed to love, they strung her up from the ceiling and laughed! They sang songs of—”
She whirled around, the rumble dropping enough for Lyndria to hear an object clattering on the ground. Everyone stared in the direction of the sound. It came from somewhere down the hall. But there were no signs of movement.
“Whoever you are, come out now and we promise you a swift end,” Silias shouted. “Otherwise we come to you.”
There was no reply. Sareen motioned towards the end of the hall. Lyndria crouched low and approached. Years of moving silently amongst her clan paid off as she didn’t make a sound.
Carefully, she peered around the corner. There were more human structures scattered about but no signs of humans, not live ones at least.
They proceeded deeper into the temple, checking every corner and shadow.
Olyvia suddenly turned in the direction of a wooden barrier. “Over there,” she whispered.
Sareen strode forward. “This is your final chance to show yourself, human, before I make you.” She slapped the ground with her tail, a loud crack echoing throughout the chamber. “NOW!”
Even Lyndria flinched at the outburst. She began regretting getting involved in this group. Sareen was more dangerous than she expected.
“Okay, okay!” a feminine voice replied. A human woman appeared, holding her hands above her head. “Please don’t hurt me! I surrender, okay?” She spun in place. “See? I don’t have any weapons. P-Please, just let me go.”
“She’s lying,” Olyvia whispered. “There’s more over there.”
“Do not test my patience further,” Sareen said. “I said to come out.”
The woman turned to her hiding place and motioned to the others. Three human children came into view, holding on to each other. They quickly got behind the woman.
“Please, they’re just children,” the woman said. “They’re no threat to you.”
“A rabbit is not a threat to me but do you believe I shall spare it because it asks nicely?” Sareen asked.
Tears streamed down the woman’s face. “Please.”
“Don’t beg. Face your death with some dignity at least. And do not try to play at viridity. That only works on dragons more foolish than I.”
She started towards the group. The woman turned and wrapped her arms around the children as they all screamed in terror.
Lyndria leaped between them. “Whoa, what the fuck are you doing?!”
Sareen stopped and looked at her, eyes cold. “Eliminating them.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Do I look to be in a humorous mood? Or have you forgotten our task was to end the human occupation here? For too long they’ve been allowed to indulge in this quixotic behavior. No longer.”
“They’re not a threat to us.”
“Only because they lack their weapons. Even in the hands of ones as small as they, their weapons are lethal. And what promise do you have that they won’t return and shoot us while we sleep.”
“We won’t!” the woman cried. She stared at them, her face soaked in tears. “I swear, we’ll never come back! You’ll never hear from us again!”
“Promises on desperate lips rarely speak the truth.”
“Oh, come on!” Lyndria shouted. “This is really what the great Sareen, chosen Dracaena has been reduced to?” She motioned to the bodies around them. “You proved your point, and the temple is yours. What is killing them going to do?”
“You underestimate their tenacity and their arrogance.”
“That sounds like fear to me. You that scared of human hatchlings?”
Sareen glared at her. Lyndria held her ground even as she felt that familiar pressure squeezing her.
“You said humans used to worship us. If this is how we treated them, I see why they turned on us. I thought you were better than Delour, but you’re just like her. So drunk on power, you don’t know what to do with yourself.”
They continued their staring contest. Lyndria refused to bend. Refused to show any signs of weakness. She didn’t defy Delour all those years to become her.
Eventually, Sareen turned away and the pressure vanished. “Leave, human. Take what supplies you can carry and begone from this place. If I ever see you again, I will kill you.”
The woman didn’t hesitate to gather the children and rush out of there, pausing only long enough to thank Lyndria for sparing them.
Sareen sighed when the sounds of the humans faded. For once she didn’t look like a proud and regal creature, but something worn down and tired. “You’re correct. A Dracaena does not kill simply because it suits her. Thank you for opening my eyes. I shall endeavor to do better.”
“Just like that?”
“My mother was fair and I often forget that even when the masses turned on her, there were those who remained loyal and stood by her side.”
William said nothing as he watched the crew load another bundle of old tomes on the cart. Cutter’s story had revealed a lot to him and he struggled with the revelation of what it could all mean.
He still tried to process learning that the Call worked on humans. Researchers claimed it didn’t, leading him to believe it wasn’t something common among dragons. They would be in charge if it did. Were the dragons even aware of this power? But then why the secrecy? It made sense to keep it from humans but not other dragons. He wondered if Cutter possessed that power and decided to assume she could until proven otherwise. It explained a lot and made her more dangerous than ever.
It also surprised him that Lyndria was the voice of reason. He assumed that she had lost her humanity and saw the world as her plaything to use as she saw fit.
But more worrying was hearing the name Sareen. That was the name of the current and only remaining Dracaena. She had been alive since Lyndria’s time, she was there during the Great Rebellion. Silias and Olyvia he didn’t recognize but it wouldn’t surprise him to learn that they were alive as well. Rumors were that a mysterious drake followed the Dracaena everywhere she went. It could be the same drake.
But first, he needed to learn what Lyndria’s connection to the Dracaena was. Were they still working together? Did the Dracaena know where to find Lyndria? What secrets did she hold? He was no fool. Sareen was the Dracaena, the closest thing a deity anyone could realistically achieve. Every Matriarch in the Dragonlands swore fealty to her. Going anywhere near her would be starting a war.
“You’re not thinking of starting some shit with the Dracaena are you?” Cutter asked. “I know you think you’re a badass, but you don’t wanna be on her radar.”
“I’m no fool, Cutter.”
“You were dumb enough to think you could take me on.”
He said nothing. His arrogance had cost him dearly and he would never forget it. The only way out of this alive was to change his thinking and quickly. Lyndria wasn’t going to magically leave him alone because Cutter had him in her clutches. For now, he would play the good hostage. Keep his head down and play it safer.
Cutter kept him alive for a reason. She was telling him the dragon's greatest secrets for a reason. She likely expected him to do something with the information, he just needed to learn what. It couldn’t be to make things public, any of her lackeys could do that. It seemed doubtful that was what she was after anyway. If this information went public, it would destabilize the peace between humans and dragons.
One of the miners approached. “Ma’am, the cart’s full and we haven’t even loaded half the books on it.”
“Then load the other one,” Cutter said. “I brought more than one for a reason. And when you get outside, tell Shelly I want a team down here sweeping the rest of this place. I want to be sure we’re getting all of it.”
William watched as the cart was pulled out of the temple. Once it disappeared, he turned back to Cutter. “This is an awful lot of work to hide some documents. I doubt humans today would care much about a dragon killed centuries ago.”
“Probably not,” Cutter replied. “But there’s more than just records in here.”
He knew what she meant. Many of those documents likely detailed what happened all those centuries ago, proving and disproving many popular beliefs. The kind of information people would pay a lot of money for. The location of this temple alone was worth thousands.
He decided to change the subject to keep her talking. “What did they find inside the temple they claimed?”
“Nothing. Everything worth something was either destroyed or gone. So they moved on.”
“I take it that went on for some time. But what did they do with items they did recover? I doubt they carried it all on their backs.”
Cutter smiled. “Funny you mention that because they’re about to find the answer.”